Many years ago, I defined the post-Christmas letdown as that prickly feeling of loss when the energy and excitement of the holidays wore off and the numerous Christmas decorations were taken down, leaving a starkness on walls and buildings and a void in the heart. It’s literally withdrawal.
These days, I define it as the day I feel too stupid to play my Christmas music, lest my neighbours overhear through the door.
It used to hit after New Year’s Day, but times are changing.
Over the decades, the day of post-Christmas letdown has crept up from after New Year’s to December 26th.
Throughout my life, Christmas festivities carried into the new year to around January 3rd, when the tree and decorations came down. We could even get away with leaving them up until January 6th if we were holding out for Ukrainian Christmas. But now anything Christmas-y after December 25th feels wrong. Christmas music stops playing on the radio, and younger folks I’ve known remove their decorations immediately after Christmas Day: “Well, Christmas is over.”
The original twelve day of Christmas went from December 25th to January 5th, inclusive
When I was young, the 24th and 25th were family days. December 26th was a social day, when we opened our home to friends. My mother served a festive meal of roasted duck, red cabbage, and Czech potato dumplings, since turkey was reserved for the 25th. Two families often ate squeezed around a large dining table with fancy plates, crystal glasses, pine bough centre pieces for aroma, and twinkling Christmas lights on the tree.
As children, my siblings and I received our gifts on the magical eve of December 24th according to Czech tradition. The next morning, while my parents slept in to a respectable hour, we had our new gifts and toys to entertain us.
We played endlessly through the next week alongside decorations and a colourful tree, with access to the best food and baking we’d had all year. We had helped to make the special Christmas cookies, but, except for a few broken crumbs, nothing was allowed until noon on December 24th.
My mother’s coffers of home-baked goods were kept under heavy guard in a drawer in my grandfather’s room. When these treasures were finally released, they were available to us throughout the holidays. Or until we ate them. I’m sure my mother had to hide some for company.
Christmas feels different now. The holiday spirit, songs, décor, and celebrating occur up to and including December 25th, then stop abruptly. The celebratory days of Christmas barely arrive before they’re over. Today, Christmas feels done on December 26th, but it didn’t always. It used to be only the beginning, when people finally had the chance to take holiday time and spend the festive days together.
The pre-Christmas days are nothing short of a frenzy, much of it away from family, which make the Christmas to New Year’s week particularly important (even if some of us have to work during several of those days). I don’t shop on Boxing Day. That’s often my first real day of rest after weeks of toil. When the kids were all still at home, I would serve roasted duck.
Here in the northern latitudes, the void left behind by the quick removal of Christmas decorations and holiday music fills easily with cold and darkness. January is the hardest month. Although day length has increased by several minutes at the end of the day since winter solstice, winter sunrise is stubborn, refusing to yield to the light.
Edmonton, Alberta, sunrise/sunset times
- Dec. 14 — 8:44 to 4:14
- Dec. 21 — 8:49 to 4:16 (solstice; longest night)
- Dec. 28, 29, 30 — sunrise steady at 8:51; sunset 4:21, 4:22, 4:23, respectively
- Dec. 31 — 8:50 to 4:24
(Source: timeanddate.com, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, December 2016.)
By January 1st, we have gained 12 minutes of light at the end of the day, but sunrise is still stuck at a later time than on winter solstice. Only at the end of the month do we finally begin to gain light in the morning.
- Jan. 1 — 8:50 to 4:26 (a noticeable difference from 4:14)
- Jan. 31 — 8:20 to 5:15 (a full hour at the end, but only half an hour in the morning)
(Source: timeanddate.com, January 2017.)
This darkness is hard on school kids and working people, particularly in combination with brutal cold. Everything is harder in the cold, making every small task physically draining.
That’s the key factor that makes our city so different from other major cities in the world, places with which we have to compete economically. At the same time, this uniqueness makes our city character building and exotic.
In early January, another one or two severe cold snaps are usually imminent, and spring is far away. At work, there is much to be done as things get into full swing, yet energy is low, having been siphoned off by cold and darkness. There is no long weekend to look forward to for respite.
“For me, extending the buoyant mood created by Christmas music and lights is a big deal. The deeper we cut into January, the sooner we will be through the starkness of it.”
Sunrise doesn’t get decent until February 16, when it hits 7:50 a.m. By this point, we are gaining daylight in Edmonton at a rate of over 4 minutes/day.
- Feb. 28 — 7:23 to 6:11
(Source: timeanddate.com, February 2017.)
Though some individual folk may take down trees and decorations in their homes as early as Boxing Day–I saw a real tree tossed out onto a porch, awaiting the city’s tree removal truck–I am heartened by the City of Edmonton decorations and lights that are left up until after New Year’s, and by the continued playing of Christmas carols such as Little Drummer Boy over outdoor speakers at the Alberta Legislature Grounds.
When do you take down your decorations?
How do you feel when the holiday decorations come down? Do you experience a “hole”?
I would love to hear from you in the comments.